At last, the opportunity to go overseas again. After yearning for a holiday and having plenty of trips, booked more in hope than expectation, being cancelled, I finally made it to Austria during October. Quite a lot of the restrictions had been, to a degree, lifted but nonetheless I still set off with a degree of trepidation at how everything would pan out.

Not that I hadn't been on holiday since March 2020. If the truth be known, I had been on holiday for most of that time having been put on furlough in April 2020 and not returned, having taken voluntary redundancy earlier this year. I have, though, done some work as verger of our church: the normal "job" was opening and closing the church but I have since taken on the duties at weddings and funerals which also involved the preparation for the services which kept me well occupied. Semi-retirement has far from been a problem.

Genuine holidays were taken around our own country, all of which were fun. I took my mum to Devon on several occasions and travelled to the North myself, visiting various sites in Yorkshire, Manchester, Middlesbrough and Blackpool. If I was unable to make much of my railcard last year, I have more than adequately compensated this year.

It was wonderful returning to Lord's in 2021 after a blank year in 2020, my first as a Full M.C.C. Member. They did very well to allow so many to see so much cricket this year and my time there, on around 11 days, was terrific.

I have also been embarking on making homemade wine. It is too early to say how well the elderberry and damson wines I have made will turn out but there has been no chorus of corks exploding from the elderberry bottles - as yet - and the wine has a decent colour. The damson effort is bearing forth much sediment after a week of fermentation which to me showed promise, progress and strength whilst to our churchwarden (in his own words, a one-time wine maker but a man of great knowledge on many subjects) said that the would-be wine needs to be taken out of the airing cupboard. I have listened to his sage advice. I am more optimistic for the sloe/damson gin.

Back to Austria. It seemed to be the ideal place to visit as a gentle reintroduction to travel. It took me a while to cope with the various demands of understanding the restrictions. I had had flights to and from Vienna cancelled and eventually settled for travelling to Munich, flights which remained intact. It did, though, naturally entail taking on board the restrictions for not just Austria but for transit through Germany and the border crossing. Most of the information suggested that those transiting between the two countries did not need to complete an advance, online form for entry into Germany. I preferred to have one simply to be able to wave it around at airports if necessary but inevitably the address section only allowed for an address in Germany, not Austria and I had none to volunteer. The excellent German Helpline answered quickly and the chap who answered said he understood my predicament: no, I did not need to fill out the form but airlines usually wanted to see something so confirmed that my idea of just putting Munich Airport as my address in Germany was perfectly acceptable. It was reassuring to speak to someone who exercised common sense. Getting clarification on whether I would be accepted on to the flights at both Heathrow and Munich showing just my N.H.S. letter (rather than a recent test result) was a trying business with conflicting advice and eventually required an email to the airline and a reply saying that yes, my N.H.S. letter was fine. A triumph, a result - and another piece of paper to wave about!

Actually, all the required information had to be put into the booking two to three days before departure, a process that worked very well and gave peace of mind. Everything went well at Heathrow and also at Munich. Immigration at Munich was very civil and, despite filling out their form and being able to wave it about (although not literally) at Munich, they were very thorough and I was pleased to have spent a long time collating the information to be able to prove that I was in transit. Everything went smoothly.

Entrance into Austria was easier, possibly because I was on a train. There is a requirement to wear FFP2 masks (something I dutifully bought - and wore - in place of my preferred Bedouin headwear which I wear around my mouth and nose in the U.K, and which was bought near Mount Sinai for 2). That said, the by now rapidly fading and creased N.H.S. letter was further required at restaurants to show proof of vaccination. In my case, I used the excellent Hauslwirt in Golling on all three evenings that I was there so only had to show the letter on the first evening.
Golling an der Salzach

Gastehaus Sunkler, Golling

Might just suggest a bend in the road

A distant view of St. Wolfgang and the Schaffberg

Golling an der Salzach main street

Festung Hohenwerfen

Werfen

On an Austrian train

On a British train later the same day

I stayed once again in the very good Gastehaus Sunkler in Golling. I had another decent room with a balcony, bed, bathroom and fridge. All for around 30 a night. Visitors in this general area benefit from being given a Tennengau Plus Card, essentially a visitor's card which offers discounts but more pertinently free bus travel within a selected region and free train travel to Salzburg on the S-Bahn train. It was very handy.

My two days were busy, long and enjoyable. I revisited favourite haunts which inevitably meant bends in the road, Where Eagles Dare locations and the St. Wolfgang area. Much as I like most parts of Austria, the Salzkammergut area is probably my favourite and it was lovely seeing towns such as St. Wolfgang, St. Gilgen and Bad Ischl from the bus. After taking the S-Bahn from Golling to Salzburg, the longest stretch available with the Tennengau Plus Card, an onward bus took me to Bad Ischl from where I explored the general area between there and Ebensee. The weather was initially misty but came out beautifully and four hours of walking took their toll later on.

The following day, I went to Werfen and enjoyed seeing the railway station and castle (without this time going in). It is such a spectacular area, the castle perched high holding its own alongside the mountains and the Salzach river running through. Yes, my camera was out a lot in the hope of picking up further unusual photos which might appear in the film.

I went on to the area above Hallein and took the Postbus deeper into the region where I believe the gorge scene was filmed. It was a spectacular journey and although I was limited in how far I could go, I enjoyed seeing a gorge until some more athletic - and younger - people appeared after more strenuous exertions in canoes and on rocks.

Aches and pains - slight ones, I should add - were eased in the Bad Vigaun spa after which it was time to return to the hotel and pack for the early journey home the following day. I was unable to check in for the flight as I do not have the necessary telephone to download an app which was required for further providing my vaccination status. The proof was there from the outbound flight but hey ho, it was all fine the following day at Munich. The Passenger Locator form was a bit of a bind and reassurance was given on every page of the lengthy form that the vaccination status might not be accepted as the form was being improved. Mine was duly declined but again it was a straightforward process of showing the form and letter at check-in. Don't change seats after completing the Passenger Locator form, though, as it means having to do the form again... I put up with a seat which I wouldn't otherwise have chosen (and was actually unable to change online, possibly because of not being able to add my vaccination status into the app).

The queues were daunting at Heathrow and many hearts sank. They did, though, move smoothly and the wait was not as severe as I had expected. One slight area of concern was the printing of the Passenger Locator Form: as mentioned earlier, I do not have the necessary telephone to show it on and the hotel did not have a printer so, when my turn came, I had my laptop ready to show it, hoping that it would be accepted. In the event, I was not required to show it, the necessary information being on my passport and computer so all was well.

The final process was the Day 2 test, and here I would like to thank Randox. I picked them unashamedly because their price was the lowest and yet their service was exceptional. The kit arrived the very next day by courier after ordering it - sparing my blushes: I had ordered it around eight days before going to Austria and then remembered that we were away in the ensuing period and hoped that it would fit through the letterbox. It wouldn't have. I was very much "kept in the loop" by emails on progress of delivery and, from their FAQs, there should be no reason for making errors in the ordering and returning. Although the nearest drop-off box might ideally have been a little closer to Swindon than having to go down the M4 to a service station, a trip we had had a dress rehearsal for, it worked well and, having gagged my way through the self-test, I had further emails within the next 24 hours that a) the sample had been received and b) that I was subsequently free to continue along my leisurely way. I was negative.

Austria likely beckons next year, partly as it will be forty years since my first visit there. My insane missions in the hope of stumbling upon further and possible Where Eagles Dare locations led to an extension of the above holiday shortly after my return: a visit to the British Library to read memoirs of people who worked on the film. Further research has also borne fruit too so it is a case of when I shall be back, doubtless walking up bendy roads (which do not have public transport) and through forests. I can't wait.